By Martina Fuchs
DUBAI, Apr 26, 2011- Migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa are still flowing into Yemen, where protesters are demanding the end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's rule, the International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday.
Hassan Abdel Moneim Mostafa, a Middle East regional adviser for the IOM, said Yemen's crisis was complicating efforts to provide aid to African migrants and Yemenis displaced by an on-off civil war in the north.
"The challenges we have in Yemen are the inflows from Djibouti, from Ethiopia, from Somalia," he said in a telephone interview. "In March 2011, we have seen 9,000 new arrivals at the coast of Yemen. I think the number is growing every month."
Yemen's Western and Gulf allies have tried to mediate a solution to a three-month crisis in which protesters, inspired by the ouster of autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, have demanded the end of Saleh's 32-year rule.
Apart from economic and political turmoil, Yemen hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa who risk perilous sea crossings on what they see as a transit route to richer Gulf countries.
The IOM has said the number of migrants landing in Yemen from the Horn of Africa, mainly Ethiopians in search of work and asylum-seekers from Somalia, has dramatically increased in recent months as human smugglers take advantage of the political instability in the country.
The IOM said it would resume evacuations of Ethiopian migrants stranded in Yemen, and help some 2,400 Ethiopians return home in the coming weeks.
Mostafa said IOM's food assistance program in al-Jawf governorate in the north of Yemen had come to a standstill due to tensions between rival tribes and fighting between the government and the rebel Houthi movement.
"We were mostly involved in food distribution, but this has stopped in northern Yemen. We are heavily involved in medical assistance in the north, in al-Jawf, this is continuing in collaboration with the government," Mostafa said.
"Food supply has been disrupted completely," he said. "We intend to re-initiate the food assistance in the north within the coming weeks, I hope."
Nearly a third of the 23 million people in Yemen don't have enough food, and unrest makes it difficult for aid groups to reach them.
Yemen will need $224 million in 2011 for humanitarian aid that will improve food, health, water and sanitation for women and children, the U.N. told Reuters in March.
"We hope we can build the international capacity of Yemen once the situation becomes more calm, because we can't really continue in this environment," Mostafa said.